Thursday, October 17, 2013

5 Obstructions Blogathon: Obstruction #5

I’ve been struggling with this final obstruction all month.  It’s crazy; all these months of weird assignments and complete firsts (interviews, plagiarism, outright lies) and the final obstruction seemed like such an easy get.  WRITE WHATEVER THE FUCK YOU WANT TO!  Well, I don’t know what the fuck I want to talk about!  How’s that for a snag in this armor.  I didn’t see that one coming.  I mean, when I saw the obstruction for the month I was so sure of myself.  I knew that this was going to be easy.  I even commented “now all I have to do is pick a subject” but doing that was hard as hell. 

For those unfamiliar, I'm speaking of Nostra's '5 Obstructions' blogathon, which you can read more about here.

I think at the end of the day I was making this harder on myself than it needed to be.  I wanted this to be an important subject, something that felt really poignant to movies today, but I’m not all that profound despite constantly trying to pretend that I am, and so penciling down a subject was giving me a headache. 

Seriously, just yesterday I was thinking about throwing in the towel, and it’s barely the middle of the month.

Saving the best for last...
So then I thought to myself, if I’m going to make this work, let’s do it about something that you are currently watching.  I had a few ideas, to be honest.  I mean, quite frankly I made two posts yesterday (about Winslet and about Noah) that I could have easily turned into this post, but part of me wanted to really work up something that came to my mind while watching a certain 1956 film this past weekend.  That film was ‘The Harder They Fall’.  This film was the last film that legend Humphrey Bogart made.  He died 9 months after the film was released.  While watching Robert Osborne’s commentary after the film he made a comment that struck me.  He said that this was a great film for Bogart to go out on.  I’ve often thought about that, with regards to actors or actresses who either leave us too soon or who decide to retire from acting altogether. 

What is the best way to leave an audience for good?

I thought about this some while watching James Gandolfini in ‘Enough Said’, and I’ve even used this in my defense as to why I think he’s getting that Oscar nomination.  It was the perfect role to say goodbye with.  He was charming and sincere and everything we didn’t expect from Tony Soprano, and while I know that he has one more film coming (the Dennis Lehane scripted ‘Animal Rescue’), this is how I want to remember James.

Is this really how you want to go out?
There are actors who have gone out on a great film, and still a bounty of actors who leave us after dropping a turd in our laps.  I broached this subject briefly when the world thought Jack Nicholson was retiring and I was bitching about his last movie being that awful ‘How Do You Know’.  Gene Hackman left us after ‘Welcome to Mooseport’, which is one of the worst films I’ve ever seen, and it’s a shame because Hackman is easily one of the greatest actors who has ever lived; ever.  Sean Connery and Bob Hoskins have both retired because of health issues, both retiring after dropping fantasy films on us (‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ and ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’ respectively), neither of which were very good.

But like Bogart, some actors leave us after delivering their best work to date.  Heath Ledger’s last completed work was his Oscar winning triumph, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’.  When an actor leaves us with such a brilliant performance, it thickens the pain of the loss, because we see the potential for more (another aspect I discussed in my review of ‘Enough Said’).  Both Marilyn Monroe (a cinematic treasure) and Clark Gable left us with arguably their most personal and intimate work, ‘The Misfits’.  They were both stellar in the film, and their deaths the following year were terribly devastating and almost haunting when you watch the film in retrospect.

Then you have Ingrid Bergman, who is like the queen of this discussion, leaving us just four years after delivering one of the top ten greatest female performances of all time; Charlotte Andergast in ‘Autumn Sonata’.

I love everything about your movie...except for you!
And then there is Grace Kelly, who is kind of a conundrum here.  She was never really a great actress, and yet she retires at the highlight of her career, the breathtaking ‘High Society’, and yet she’s the weakest link in the film.  Great film, dull performance (or at least not up to par with her co-stars) and yet it was still a real high, if you know what I mean.

With all this talk of ‘leaving’, it made me wonder a little about the ‘coming’.  In other words; what true legends delivered a debut performance that let us know we were in for a treat?  What actors or actresses came in delivering something less than wonderful and then went on to become a huge star or respected presence in film?

The first actor I thought of was Paul Newman.  His debut film, ‘The Silver Chalice’, was met with criticism, and no one ever expected from the film that he would be a star.  He was almost convinced to return solely to television and give up dreams of being a Hollywood icon, but then 1957 came along and James Dean’s unfortunate death left a spot open for the lead in a little boxing movie called ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’…and the rest is history.  Paul Newman rose in the ranks as one of the most dependable leading men, racked up 9 Oscar nominations (for acting), won one of them, nabbed an Honorary Oscar and a Humanitarian Award and was nominated as producer of ‘Rachel, Rachel’.  I think it’s safe to say we are all pretty happy that he gave films a second try.

A star is born...
But some actors don’t need to try a second time, because they nail it on the first one.  Look at none other than Kate Winslet.  Her debut performance came in ‘Heavenly Creatures’, a New Zealand production directed by Oscar winner Peter Jackson and it was evident immediately that she was going to be a star.  More than that, she’s become a legend and one of the finest working actresses today.

So I guess I close this discussion with a question (as all good discussions should be left): who do you think came onto the screen or departed from the screen in the best, or worst, way?

It’s been a really fun couple of months, stretching myself as a blogger, and I can’t wait for the next opportunity.  I want to take the end of this post to thank Nostra for the AMAZING job he did putting this blogathon together.  He really did his homework and made this a fun and enlightening experience!  I can’t wait to see what you have cooked up for us next, and I’ll be first in line to partake.


  1. Great job. I really hope Nicholson and Hackman do at least one more good film before they officially bow out.

  2. Awesome post! I really need to see Heavenly Creatures!

    Best debuts: It's recent, but Jack Reynor is still my 2013 Best Actor winner for What Richard Did. Stunning debut performance. Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves, Edward Norton in Primal Fear, and Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not are also some of my favorites.

    Best departures: Spencer Tracy in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Vivien Leigh in Ship of Fools, Jean Arthur in Shane, Peter Finch in Network, and Carole Lombard in To Be or Not to Be are some good ones.

    1. Great notices. I meant to mention Edward Norton and totally forgot! I kind of thought Jean Arthur, who I love, was stale as hell in Shane, but I hated that movie.

      I meant to mention that Ingrid Bergman probably has the best combination of debut and exit performances, if you count her Hollywood debut as her first film (Intermezzo, from 1939).

  3. Amazing subject and nice to see this obstruction still gave you a challenge. I liked the final performance (not the movie) Walter Matthau gave in Hanging Up. He played a man who was ill and gave both a dramatic as a funny performance there. When he is asked what day it is he says : "Froopsday"...such a funny line.

    1. It's been SO LONG since I've seen that movie. LOL, I think I even forgot he was in that :-P

      Thanks again for putting this whole thing together. It was a lot of fun!

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